I have always had a bit of resistance to telling people about Holy Week. It is one of those things that casual people might gum up and mere consumers might defile. It really deserves people who voluntarily seek the Lord — not people who are pressured into some observance by fear of unholiness and not people afraid of being on the outs with their peers or the people who dominate them. Holy Week is a radical thing to do — not really something to be visited but something to be accomplished, just like Jesus will say at the end of it, “It is finished.”
Walking through the Holy Week with Jesus is the ultimate in taking to heart the great theme verse of Lent, Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” The discipline is all about knowing Jesus – knowing his death and moving through it with him to resurrection. Powerful.
At the same time, I also hate for anyone to miss Holy Week! So many Christians de-radicalize themselves and ramp down Christianity to fit into their “side-project” category while their schedule is devoted to who they really are. I cannot resist calling everyone into true faith that invades their schedule with as much discipline bent on knowing Jesus as it can tolerate – a true attempt at praying without ceasing and being the body on a pilgrimage together into eternity. This journey is our true life and no one should miss it. We got the strangest compliment the other day; someone said, “That church really expects us to be Christians.” It’s true. I hope that’s not becoming unusual for the Church in general. But it is true; Holy Week expects us to be Christians.
So here are six reasons I think we should do it. You still have a few days to plan to do what you can to become who you might be — and, as Paul seems to say it, “attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
It connects us.
The “Holy Week” of the Christian discipline year is the week immediately before Easter. The earliest allusion to the custom of marking this week as a whole with special observances can be found in the Apostolical Constitutions (v. 18, 19), dating from the late 200’s and early 300’s.
Do it because it is great to be part of the transhistorical body of Christ! Our church also has its own version of this tradition that is as old as our church is. It is great to be part of our own spiritual tradition! Some people think that resisting the tradition makes them something. Could be — not going with the crowd, being “free” or merely being oneself has good parts, too. But as a spiritual lifestyle, staying singular is detrimental.
We need to identify.
The main discipline of Holy Week is the spiritual exercise of being with Jesus, quite consciously, prayerfully and physically, as he moves through the final week on the way to his great work on our behalf. He is fully indentified with us and we seek to fully identify with him.
Do it to become one with him, to know him and to die and rise with him. We could do this in our imagination in our house, of course, or binge watch it on a movie. Making the effort to go to a gathering connects us to our own problems with being that real, that active, and that committed as well as being all those things with all those people. We exercise our Christ-connected identity in graphic ways and that solidifies it.
It helps us receive Jesus.
The time we spend every day during the Holy Week gives us a lot of meditative space we do not normally have and may not normally discipline in our own schedule. The teaching, worship, dialogue and quiet give us a lot of space to receive Jesus: what he is saying and what he is doing.
Do it because as God came to us in Jesus in the past, he is coming right now and will come back to welcome us into the age to come. These mysteries are very deep and are a little different for us each year. We need to be softened to them and we need time to receive all that Jesus was, is and will be.
We need to develop our faith.
Many of us are just starting off in faith and we need to get a handle on what we are doing. Holy Week lays it out in a deep but linear path we can follow. Exercising spiritual discipline at this level is a formative first for many of us. It challenges who we are as individuals and a body, which is why many people don’t risk it. Others are settled in Jesus and the church and don’t feel so needy anymore – they need to regain some humility, enough to place themselves on the now-familiar path with Jesus and get somewhere.
Do it because we need to place ourselves on that path as who we are now. New believers need to get on a new path. Old believers need to get further on the path. We need to move with Jesus where we are going next, not get stuck on the track we’re in. We dare not become content with our level. Holy Week demands a deeper level, since Jesus is out in front of us demonstrating what self-giving love means.
It makes us a deep community.
While spiritual discipline is probably primarily a silent, singular practice with God, we can’t leave that as the full extent of our practice. We need each other. The weak need the strong and the strong need the weak. During the mutual discipline of Holy Week, we dispense with our normal cell schedule. We band together as four congregation who will meet as a whole on Easter morning and then will be sent into our stations on Easter evening.
Do it because it is so descriptive and formative it is priceless! The practice helps us face up to our new faces and to live in the truth and love that makes us one. The story of Holy Week is the story that makes us the body of Christ. Reliving it is remembering our birth.
We want to witness to Jesus.
In a world full of newly-formed detractors and deconstructors, the word of Jesus needs to be told and the way of Jesus needs to be demonstrated. This week of the year cannot be turned into a cute celebration of family/friendship or gift-giving; it is the Holy Week in which Jesus dies and rises. It is the gospel lived out by the Lord and His people. It is the re-creation moment held up for everyone to see. The Holy Week observances are like a march down Broad St. by which we let people know that people of this generation follow Jesus and take his work so seriously they are drawn to emulate it in their small way as they gather to be a part of it together.
Do it because the more appointments we need to reschedule, the more bosses we need to ask for time off, the more friends we have occasion to tell what we are doing, the more trouble the whole process causes to the homeostasis of this present time which as it smothers hope, the better.
You may have more reasons! You may have stories to tell about why you do it. If this is a good place to share, please feel free.
5 thoughts on “Six good reasons to observe the Holy Week”
Thanks for these insights, Rod.
I like our visceral method of walking with Jesus. I want to do it every day, the vigils give me a chance to walk a little closer, to listen a little more intently, and to have some quality time with fellow pilgrims. Whether or not they are all well executed or mind blowing doesn’t matter. My soil gets a nutrient bath.
The hassle of it is a good disruption. It orients my whole week around the expectation of resurrection.
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